THIS BLOG ENTRY IS THE FIFTH IN A SERIES DEALING WITH THE SUCCESSOR TO COMMISSIONER SHANNON STAUB. Today is a day to, without impugning Commissioners Patterson and Barbetta, thank Mark Hawkins and Cathy Antunes. For regardless of the outcome tomorrow, for the first time since 2000 the majority of the Sarasota County Commission will be serving as a result of the entire electorate having had a chance to vote for or against them in the most recently held election for their seat.
Right now, for instance, on the First of November 2010, only one commissioner, Carolyn Mason, can say that the last time there was a possibility for District seat to change hands that electorate chose her over a candidate from another party. The other four commissioners were either unopposed the last time they ran, or won in a closed primary that excluded the majority of county voters.
So when the next commission is seated, whether incumbent or new face, the Commissioners from Districts 2 and 4 will have something more closely approximating a mandate than those presently serving.
It would be inappropriate to blame Commissioners Thaxton, Staub, Patterson, and Barbetta for the lack of previous Democratic or Independent challenges to their candidacy. In fact, the lack of opposition no doubt reflects not only both their political power as Sarasota Republicans, but also general county-wide satisfaction with their leadership.
No, it is the Democrats and Independents, whose registration accounts for about two thirds of Sarasota voters who need to take responsibility for the historic lack of organized opposition. But this year they are doing their part, with Democrat Mark Hawkins challenging Nora Patterson and Independent Cathy Antunes taking on Joe Barbetta for the only two seats that expire this year. Whatever the outcome, at least we can say the entire electorate will have had a say in three fifths of the commission.
It is worth noting that he other two current commissioners each can stake a claim to being the most popular commissioners ever. While District Five Commissioner Jon Thaxton is only serving his third term so far, he hasn’t faced a Republican opponent since 2004, Democrats and Independents have never challenged him, and a write-in candidate made him the top all time vote getter, pulling in over 107,000 votes. District Three Commissioner Shannon Staub has been elected four times (only Bob Anderson topped that), also facing Republican challengers only twice and, like Thaxton, has never appeared on a ballot against a Democrat or Independent. Based on their experience, political skill, and popularity, each would have to be favored in the 2012 elections, if they chose to run.
While Commissioner Thaxton’s intentions are unknown, Commissioner Staub’s announced departure ensures that, whatever the fate of Patterson and Barbetta, we will be looking at a new Commission next year.
And, now that the voting will be behind us, perhaps the media and citizenry can focus their attention on the third race, moving from election of two to the selection of one.